Until the beginning of this century, there were basically only two seasons
in which you could view the glossy ibis (maglan): spring, when the ibis
migrated north, and autumn, when it flew south. You watched them in the
heavens, large, dark, distinctive birds flying in formation, stretching out
their long necks and letting their unusual beaks lead the way. But you
couldn’t get near enough to see anything more.
After the Jewish National Fund developed the Hula Agamon in 1995 and
re-flooded 1,000 dunams of former swampland with water, ibises began
stopping there to rest and ’refuel’ before continuing on their way. And
lately, to bird lovers’ delight, many a glossy ibis has found the Agamon
such a comfortable site that it hasn’t didn’t felt like leaving — and has
made the Agamon its permanent home!
Today you can visit the Agamon any day of the year and watch the glossy bird
use its scythe-shaped bill to probe the marshy wetlands in search of its
favorite delicacies (crayfish, crabs, insects and snakes). For the best view
ever, take the Agamon’s brand-new, paved bike trail along canals, lakes, and
through beautiful groves. Whether you walk the 10-kilometer circular trail
or ride your bike on the path, you will enjoy stopping often for
face-to-face encounters with wildlife. The trail has an added attraction as
well: located well off the main byway running through the Agamon, it is
unusually quiet and peaceful.
You will find the Hula Agamon — completely wheelchair accessible and one of
the country’s most exciting recreational sites — off Highway 90 a few
kilometers north of the Hula Nature Reserve. The sign in English reads Hula
Lake but, as you probably know, the translation is incorrect: the Agamon was
not named for its new lake (agam in Hebrew). Instead, the name is actually
derived from a plant called agmon yami in Hebrew, seaside bulrush or sea
club-rush in English. The seaside bulrush, a hardy species about a meter
tall, grows in shallow water, swamps, ditches and ponds like those at the
Agamon. Look for seaside bulrush on your outing.
Park in the lot and enter a large foyer that features snacks and a variety
of information about wildlife at the Agamon. Besides a nature shop, you can
inspect all kinds of vehicles for making your visit fun, from golf carts to
family bicycles. Also available: a tour bus that stops at each of three main
bird-watching balconies — and a ride inside a camouflaged truck that takes
you inside the swampy fields to a feeding site.
If you are taking the bike trail, you will begin by passing through unusual
woodlands featuring both a mulberry grove and Japanese raisin trees. The
Japanese raisin boasts fruit that resembles Japanese letters — and tastes
like raisins! Canals and pools line both sides of your route, providing you
with a close-up look at herons and cranes. There they stand on the other
side of the water, unafraid, going about their daily lives.
Herons feed on fish, frogs and similar fauna. You will see them perching on
branches, gliding gracefully above the water, or slowly wading through it.
They may spread out their wings, or stand frozen while hoping dinner will
appear. Should a heron sight possible prey, it quickly thrusts its head
forward, grasps the victim in its long, straight beak, and swallows it
When resting, herons tuck in their necks so that you get the feeling they
are smaller than they really are. And they stand quietly, making no noise at
Cranes, the crowning glory of the Agamon, were the third largest birds to
inhabit Israel in biblical times (first and second were the ostrich and the
pelican). In migration such immense flocks passed over Israel as to darken
the sky, and when they crossed the Red Sea they appeared to sweep from shore
to shore. Large flocks lived in the desert south of Jerusalem, and a few of
them made their homes up north.
The species that we see in Israel today are called Eurasian cranes, with a
wing sweep of two meters from tip to tip, weigh more than five kilograms,
and stand 1.5 meters tall.
As you continue, you will be able to hear different species of birds
communicating with one another. The spur-winged plover has a particularly
raucous cry whose call gave it its Hebrew name of siksak.
There are lots and lots of spur-winged plovers at the Agamon. Watch them
carefully. Plover parents can communicate with their young, and even to
embryos still in their shells. After building their nests on hot sand or
dirt, plovers shade their standard four eggs with their bodies. Because they
can’t deal with offspring and cool off the nest at the same time, they send
messages to the eggs and all four hatch promptly within hours of one
Newborn plovers can leave the nest immediately and hunt for food in the
company of one of their parents. If an enemy approaches, the parent signals
its arrival and the young plovers immediately lie down on the ground to
Plovers are very territorial — and aggressively protective. If another
creature gets near their territory they will call — loudly — with their
scary cry. If that doesn’t work, they will attack with the quills on their
wings. They are said to have attacked birds four times their size — and I
have heard that this is the only bird that can scare off a cow! One of the
guides at the Hula told me about someone who raised an abandoned baby plover
in his yard. Recognizing the yard as its territory, it turned into a guard
dog and went for a stranger who entered the yard!
Keep your eyes out for predators like eagles — look on the treetops and in
the sky. You can identify them by their large size, powerful build and heavy
head and bill. Like all birds of prey, eagles have big, strong, hooked beaks
with which they tear the flesh from their prey. Unusually good eyesight
makes it possible for them to spy possible victims from a long distance
Large piles of sand were placed along the route for little, colorful
bee-eaters, with yellow mouths and blue eyes. They nest inside these tiny
mountains. Watch for spoonbills in the canal, appropriately called kapanim
(from the word for spoon — kaf.) Curlew sandpipers, small birds with long
thin beaks, search for lunch in the waters.
And, of course, feast your eyes on the impressive glossy ibises in the tall
grass on the banks. In Egypt, where they eat snake eggs and protect the
fields by gobbling up locusts, the ibis is considered holy. Indeed, the god
Tut had the head of an ibis. Want to rest? Feel free to set yourself down on
benches hidden within a grove of Paulinas, where you can see but not be
seen. An Australian tree that grows very fast and features beautiful purple
flowers, the Paulina provides a nesting area for song birds that require
broad leaves. Stop, again, at the fruit trees, although it is the wrong
season for picking figs, mulberries or pomegranates.
From a special bird lookout, gaze at a floating island in the water; plans
for the future — already taking shape — include bridges for getting there
You are bound to encounter several coypus (nutria in Hebrew) on your jaunt.
Furry dark brown little mommies, sometimes accompanied by their young, swim
in the canals — or come out of the water to rest on the banks. They may
scratch themselves, shake their fur, or simply take a bath in the sun.
Also sunning themselves, but on rocks in the water, are turtles. The ones
you see are swamp turtles, typical of this area but nearly extinct not so
long ago. Today they are eagerly reproducing! See if you can identify the
agmon — seaside bulrush — near papyrus in the water. The Hula Agamon is the
northernmost point in the world where it can be found.
Take your time on this pleasurable outing, and when you finish, head for a
very special trail that looks out over the Agamon. Recently completed, it
was developed by the JNF as a living memorial to reserves officer, Maj. Ran
Kochva, killed in action during the Second Lebanon War.
To reach the Ran Kochva Lookout, get back onto Highway 90 and turn right,
then left at Koah Junction. Ran Kochva Lookout is located on your left,
directly across from the first major bend in the road. Do not turn during
your ascent — first go to the top and turn around.
An unusually talented and creative youngster, Ran Kochva was born in 1969
and grew up in Netanya. He was drafted into the air force and became a
helicopter navigator. During his next eight years of service, Ran took part
in numerous campaigns, and was awarded a certificate of merit for excellence
by the Chief of Staff. In the reserves, Ran was always the first to
volunteer for a mission.
As a civilian, Ran earned a degree in architecture and at the same time,
studied law. Ran loved to explore the countryside, and became intimately
familiar Israel’s trails, both on and off the beaten path. In the summer of
2006, the Second Lebanon War broke out. On July 20, his helicopter crashed
and Ran was killed.
Try to reach the lookout in the late afternoon just before the sun begins to
set for an absolutely stupendous view of the waters of the Hula Agamon. A
map describes the landscape before you; a part of the helicopter that
crashed very near this spot reminds you why you are here.
Leading up to the overlook is a path called the ’Riddles Trail’ which is
lined just now with cyclamen and asphodel. Along the route are little
plaques (in Hebrew) with questions or information about the region. ’Gaze at
the peaks on the northeast — to what mountain do they belong?’ asks one. Or
’The Hula Lake covered 60 square kilometers and its murky waters caused
malaria,’ states another. On a third plaque you can read a phrase written by
poet Natan Yonatan: ’A land whose loving people gave their all.’ And then
the question: ’Who gave his all in this place?’